Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Iconic Game Shows #1: Concentration

A disclaimer: this is not about the top game shows in history in order. It's a series of posts about game shows that are, in my humble opinion, part of what define the genre.



(CLASSIC) CONCENTRATION (NBC, Syndication)
August 25, 1958 - March 23, 1973
September 10, 1973 - September 8, 1978
May 4, 1987 - September 20, 1991
 
 Concentration was a unique two-part game.  For the first part, you had to match prizes hidden on the board between 30 numbered squares.  If you did, you earned it.  Then, the second part came into play.  Behind the prizes are parts of a rebus puzzle, a group of connected letters and pictures that represent a person, place, thing or well-known phrase.  The contestant that guessed the rebus first won all the prizes on their board.  Other squares, like Wild Cards, Take 1 Gift and Forfeit 1 Gift, helped or hindered the contestants on their quest to solve the rebus.

The show, hosted by Hugh Downs, Ed McMahon (yes, that Ed McMahon) and Bob Clayton, graced the NBC daytime lineup for 14 years and 7 months, making it the longest-running daytime game show until The Price is Right unseated it in 1987.

The show was brainy, yet light-hearted, with booby prizes on the board and contestants and host Hugh Downs occasionally dressing up in costumes.  On Christmas shows, two celebrities would play for charity both dressed up as Santa Claus.  Bonuses included the Envelope and It's Mysterious Contents, and the $100,000 Shower of Money, where winners had one minute to collect swirling dollar bills in a fan booth.

After Concentration was axed in 1973 during NBC vice president Lin Bolen's daytime shakeup, a new version was launched for syndication by game show gurus Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.  Jack Narz became the new host and Johnny Olson of The New Price is Right and Match Game '73 announced.  The new set was beautifully colored and the new theme was very fitting for the 1970s.  The rebuses were now in full color, but didn't lose any of their challenge.  The gameplay remained mostly the same to start, although in the middle of the run, more special spaces, like Bonus and Free Look were added, and a contestant could choose three numbers instead of two.

This version featured a new bonus round called "Double Play" where a contestant had to solve two fully-revealed rebuses in 10 seconds.  If they did that, they won a new car, or, later in the run, whatever prize they earned in a small matching game.

The syndicated version fell by the wayside in 1978, and a pilot was tried out in 1985 with Orson Bean as host, and a new matching format.  In that one, the two contestants linked words instead of matching prizes, which was saved for the new bonus round.  The pilot wasn't picked up, but this did lead to the revival of the program two years later under the name Classic Concentration.  Veteran game show host Alex Trebek was tabbed to lead Concentration back to its roots.

The gameplay returned to matching prizes with two selections and Wild! cards as aids.  The "Take 1 Gift" was added through the four-year run of the show as red and green "TAKE!" squares.  The game board was now electronically run with computer-generated numbers and prizes.  The rebuses were drawn and colored on poster board, set up on a blue screen and revealed as the game went along.

However, they kept the bonus round from the pilot.  There were 15 numbered squares and seven pairs of the eight cars displayed majestically in the studio.  Of course that meant one car was a red herring, not meant to be won.  If the contestant could match all seven pairs within the time given, they'd win the last car they matched.  This led to a lot of exciting finishes, as there were always two bonus rounds in a show.

This is the version I grew up with, and like so many other game shows, I was mesmerized by it.  It had everything I liked: numbers, a matching game, cool sound effects, colorful hidden rebuses and an exciting bonus round.  I may not have been able to solve much of the puzzles at the tender age of nine, my nose pressed near the TV screen to make out the show behind the snow and static Papa's old TV displayed.  Still, it was a beloved show that I worked not to miss, even though by then the show was in reruns.

The dearth of game show deaths in 1991 didn't spare Classic Concentration and no new version has been made in 21 years.  Who knows: maybe someday, Americans will want to sit down, match prizes and solve rebuses again.  I'll wait patiently until then. :)

EDIT 1: Moved the third logo at the top up a space.

EDIT 2: I decided to remove the moment and the picture in the middle.  I could use the moment in another post or series of them later.  I moved the logos on the top around a little as well.

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